If this hadn’t really happened, Disney would have had to make it up. But a high school science teacher did tell the baseball team he coached that if they won the division title he would try out for the major leagues. And they did and he did and Jim Morris did become the oldest rookie in 40 years. And then, when he went in as relief pitcher in his first major league game, he struck out the first player at bat. Sometimes, life just is a Disney movie.
And this story turns out to make a very nice movie indeed, thanks to not one but two irresistible underdog-with-a-dream stories, dignified-but-heartwarming direction by John Lee Hancock, and a hit-it-out-of-the-ballpark performance by Dennis Quaid.
A leisurely prologue sets the scene. After a mystical fairy tale about some nuns and wishing and rose petals, we meet a boy who lives for baseball. It is the one constant in his life as his family moves from one Army base to another around the country. When they finally find a place to stay, it is Texas, where the only game anyone cares about is football.
Fade into the present, when Morris (Quaid) is happily married, with deep roots in that same dusty Texas town. He had his shot at the big leagues, but didn’t make it. We don’t learn the specifics, but we see a big scar twisting around his shoulder. And as he tells his son, “It’s never one thing” that derails you.
Morris is the high school baseball coach. But it is still a football town, and no one pays much attention to the team. One day, Morris throws a few balls to the catcher and the team is impressed with the power of his arm. When he challenges them to try harder, they challenge him back. If he wants them to dream big, he will have to show them the way. So he promises that if they win the division title, he will try out for the major leagues.
He never expects it to work. But the boys turn into a team and they start winning games. And so Morris ends up going to the try-outs, though he has to take his kids along. It turns out that despite what had always been thought to be the incontrovertible rule that pitches slow down as pitchers get older, Morris is throwing faster than ever, up to 98 miles an hour.
But dreams ask a lot of us. The success of the team has brought a coaching offer from a bigger school. Morris can take it and give his family a more comfortable life. Or he can accept the offer to play on a minor league team, with the slim hope that he might get picked up by the major leagues.
His dream asks a lot of him, but it asks a lot from his family, too, perhaps more than is fair to expect.
Well, we know what happens next. We probably even predict that at some point Morris will think about quitting but will rediscover the simple joys of baseball by watching some kids play. And we might not care too much about some dramatic embellishments, like the awkwardly inserted reconciliation with his father and the way the minor league coach tells Morris the big news, which would be unforgivably torturous if it happened in real life. But the dream is so pure and Quaid is so good that most audiences will be happy to go along.
Parents should know that although the movie is rated G, it will not be of much interest to younger kids. And some children might be upset by the scenes of Morris with his father, who is cold and unsympathetic, or by the financial problems faced by the family. There are references to divorce and remarriage.
Families who see this movie should talk about our responsibility to help those we care about try to make their dreams come true and to share the dreams of those we love. It was the way Morris believed in his team and the way they believed in him that made both their dreams come true. Morris’s father tells him that it is “okay to think about what you want to do until it is time to do what you were meant to do.” How do you know when it is time to put a dream aside?
For some reason, there are more great movies about baseball than about any other sport. Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy The Sandlot, Rookie of the Year, It Happens Every Spring, and “Angels in the Outfield,” either the 1951 or 1994 versions. Older teens and adults will also enjoy Field of Dreams.